The semi finals of the World Cup 2015 showed the world both faces of cricket. The ugliest side and the most beautiful.
South Africa were facing New Zealand on the 24th of March in Auckland. Neither team had ever made it to a World Cup final and they were here facing each other in an attempt to make it their first. Both teams knew they could not both make it through to the finals and that this would be a fight to the last second. Considering the pressure on both teams to make it through to the finals, it was possibly the cleanest and purest game of cricket ever. It was also the most heart-breaking.
Both teams were coming into the semi-final from unbelievable wins. South Africa had smashed through Sri Lanka and beaten them with nine wickets in hand. New Zealand with an unbelievable performance from Martin Guptill had beaten the West Indies by 143 runs. South Africa were batting first at the Eden Park ground. They got off to a fairly slow start and Trent Boult who has been New Zealand’s key this tournament picked off the openers cheaply. Rilee Rossouw and Faf du Plessis slowly built back up. At 114 it was Corey Anderson who got the break through and removed Rossouw. Next in was AB de Villers. The man who could completely take the game away from New Zealand. It was a wonderful partnership from du Plessis and de Villiers. They ran well between the wicket and picked up the run rate. The two built up a 100 run partnership before the rain came to New Zealand’s aid. It wasn’t the first time rain had interfered with a South African World Cup knock-out game and it had never ended well for them especially when Duckworth-Lewis came into play. The game was reduced to 43 overs and South Africa needed to push on quickly with roughly six overs to go. Unfortunately du Plessis was removed almost immediately after play restarted and de Villiers found it hard to get going straight away. However David Miller came to their rescue as he smashed 49 off 18 balls and pushed South Africa up to 281.
Duckworth Lewis changed New Zealand’s target to 298 from 43 overs. It wasn’t an easy target but it was easier than the one South Africa were heading for before the rain. McCullum set off in true McCullum style, without any inhibitions he bludgeoned 59 from 26 off South Africa’s World Class fast bowlers. It was just the start that New Zealand needed to begin the chase. He brought down the required rate to a mere six per over. South Africa however continued to pick off wickets and pushed ahead. Kane Williamson was removed early and just as partnerships began to build up, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor got out. It was looking as though New Zealand might finally crumble under the pressure but a brilliant partnership between Corey Anderson and Grant Elliott kept the game alive. They put on a 103 run partnership before Anderson was removed. The game was still in the balance, both teams fighting with all their might. New Zealand still needed 46 from the last five overs.
The final over came and New Zealand needed 12 runs off the last 6 balls. It was not an easy ask with Dale Steyn bowling. Both teams were still well in the game. The intensity grew and New Zealand needed five from two when Elliott smashed a six out of the ground. As the ball crashed down it brought the dreams of the South African’s down with it. Dale Steyn fell to the floor and Grant Elliott went over to give him a hand before going to celebrate. There was an unbelievable amount of respect shown by both teams and it was possibly the most bitter-sweet ending to any cricket game.
The second semi final however was all but that. It was however, a game of sheer aggression in the wrong way. Both teams had faced issues with each other in the past and India’s new and younger side were much more ready to give what they got from Australia. The crowd atmosphere was almost mucky in places and tainted with bitterness of Bangladeshi supporters who had come specifically to boycott the Indians. This was India’s biggest test of the tournament. They hadn’t faced a significant challenge in the group matches or the quarter-finals.
It all began well with India removing David Warner early. Bowling Australia out was always going to be their biggest issue. In particular Steve Smith who had played so brilliantly against India over the summer. Smith and Aaron Finch put on an incredible 182 run partnership. India looked like they were back in the test series, unable to pick up a wicket. Smith was finally removed and Glenn Maxwell was sent in early to keep the momentum going and as always he got off to a flyer before he was removed by Ravi Ashwin. Two quick wickets fell as Finch and captain Michael Clarke fell leaving Australia 248-5 at 43. It wasn’t a great start but India had pulled it back from what could have been a 350+ run total. The game still got away from India however as James Faulkner and Mitchell Johnson put on great cameos to bring Australia up to 328. An incredibly tough ask.
As the game went on it just got more sullied. India got off to a flyer with Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. The pair put on a great first wicket partnership of 76 runs from 13 overs. There were some loose shots and some lucky misses but the openers had taken some pressure off. Once the Australian’s broke through that first partnership, India could just not get another one to stick. Virat Kohli got out for one. Had Kohli stuck around he was likely to be the man to get the brunt of it. However it all fell on the in-form Suresh Raina who had pulled India through on more than one occassion this World Cup. Mitchell Starc attacked Raina and on one occasion threw the ball at the stumps to hit Raina before appealing for obstruction. The atmosphere changed from there. The Indian fans had gone silent. There was no fight left. No one put up a fight except the captain MS Dhoni but he could not finish the game by himself. India fell 94 runs short of the total. It was a weak fight from them that left everyone disappointed. They had the ability to win, or at least make Australia really sweat but their run finally came to an end.
Australia had bowled beautifully to restrict India but it was a bitter end to the game.